SINGAPORE - The authorities have seized $2 million worth of illegal ivory which, with a weight of one tonne, was the third-largest haul of its kind since 2002.
Officers from the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and Singapore Customs last week acted on a tip-off to intercept and detain the shipment, which was passing through Singapore from Africa in a 20-foot container.
The AVA revealed yesterday that the shipment was bound for another Asian country and had been declared as coffee berries.
Officers detected irregularities in the container's contents when it was scanned at the Pasir Panjang Export Inspection Station on Tuesday last week. It was found to contain 106 pieces of illegal raw ivory tusk packed into 15 wooden crates.
The AVA is investigating. In June 2002, it had seized six tonnes of ivory tusks and cut ivory pieces en route to Japan from Africa. Six wooden crates had been packed with 532 raw ivory tusks and 40,810 ivory pieces in a shipment labelled "marble sculptures".
The $1.5 million haul was sent back to Africa for investigation. A local shipper was fined $5,000 - then the maximum fine under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act - for preparing documents to facilitate the shipment.
Last year, the AVA and Singapore Customs seized 1.8 tonnes of illegal raw ivory tusks in a shipment transiting from Africa.
It contained 1,099 pieces of raw ivory tusk in 65 sacks - about $2.5 million worth of illegal ivory. No local importer was involved.
Elephants are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), which has prohibited international trade in elephant ivory since 1989.
Under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act here, a permit is needed for the import and export of elephants, their parts or products.
Illegal trade in ivory carries a maximum fine of $50,000 per specimen not exceeding a total of $500,000, imprisonment of up to two years, or both.
These penalties also apply to the transhipment of ivory through Singapore without proper Cites permits from the exporting or importing country.
The AVA said it will continue to work with Singapore Customs, as well as other national and international enforcement agencies, to curb wildlife trafficking.
It warned all companies to take care to avoid being implicated in the smuggling of illegal wildlife, their parts or their products.
Anyone with information on illegal ivory can contact the AVA on 6325-7625. All information is kept confidential.
This article was published on April 4 in The Straits Times.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.